No one knows why Alfred Wright died. Or why the physical therapist and married father of three with no history of drug-abuse ended up in the Texas underbrush -- his body full of cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamine.
Rumors and speculation about his disappearance and death have nearly everyone in Sabine County and deep East Texas talking about what they think happened.
Wright's death has shaken local law enforcement in the region and raised serious questions about who is actually in charge. The Sabine County sheriff determined there was "no foul play," then turned the case over to Texas Rangers, who called the death "questionable."
District Attorney J. Kevin Dutton ?was asked to recuse himself to "avoid any appearance of impropriety" in the face of "allegations against the sheriff," who is a friend, according to a statement from Dutton's office. He then turned the case over to the Texas attorney general, who turned it down, saying, "investigative involvement by this office is not appropriate at this time."
The U.S. Justice Department, at the request of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is keeping an eye on the investigation: the U.S. attorney in Beaumont will be reviewing the findings. A spokeswoman would not confirm DOJ's precise role. And so far, the FBI remains on "stand-by" to assist the Texas Rangers should they need help.
Alfred Wright disappeared November 7, 2013.
His truck had been having problems all week and was overheating when he pulled into the CL&M liquor store on a quiet stretch of Route 87. Wright, a physical therapist, had been on his way to treat a client in the nearby town of Hemphill.
He called his wife Lauren and gave her specific directions where to pick him up. Yet, because she was home with their two young sons, who'd been to the doctor earlier in the day, his parents, Douglas and Rosalind Wright, set out instead on the hour-long drive.
They were not far away when Wright simply disappeared. His wife tried reaching him just after 6 p.m. and says she heard "heavy breathing as if he were in distress of some sort."
That was the last she heard.
When his parents arrived at the CL&M store, Wright's truck was in the parking lot but there was no sign of Alfred. His father says he was told by the store clerk that Wright, "All of a sudden put his cell phone in his sock and took off like the truck was gonna blow up."
The store clerk is one of the last people known to have seen Wright alive. She would not comment to CNN on the circumstances which caused Wright to run, saying only, "He left of his own free will."
The CL&M store is owned by one of the sheriff's dispatchers, whose son is a deputy. Despite the presence of surveillance cameras, the family's lawyer says he was given several explanations by authorities why no footage exists: the cameras were broken; the cameras provided a live feed only; and there was no tape in the VHS system.
A day after Alfred Wright disappeared, his watch and items of clothing were found on a ranch about a mile from the liquor store. Sheriff Thomas Maddox called in deputies and volunteer firefighters from around the county to help in the search.
Yet despite finding Alfred's royal blue scrubs, his ID and his watch, Maddox inexplicably called off the search for the 28-year-old Jasper man after only four days.
The Wright family says the sheriff told them his office had "exhausted its resources and funds" and dismissed Wright's disappearance as "likely drug-related," telling the family there was "no foul play" and that Wright was simply "a missing person." The search and, therefore, the investigation was over.
The sheriff's actions stunned the family.
Wright's mother, Rosalind Wright, says Maddox told them: "He just ran away. He's probably on drugs. If someone is on meth this is how they act. They get hot. They get out of their clothes."
Wright's family says they never saw him take drugs. And his close childhood friend and confidant Seattle Seahawk defensive-end Joseph "Red" Bryant says the two men were close enough that, "If he was doing those kinds of drugs, I would have known."
Bryant, whose team just won the Super Bowl, describes Wright as deeply devoted and religious, someone who always "thought outside the box."
The sheriff has denied CNN's repeated requests for an interview. Speaking briefly on the phone, Maddox refused to address his handling of the search and told CNN he turned over the investigation to Texas Rangers. Aware of the public's deep mistrust, the Rangers have asked for "patience," promising a thorough investigation.
After Maddox and his deputies abandoned their search and called off the investigation, Wright's family and dozens of volunteers were left to find him on their own. They did the week of Thanksgiving, 19 days after he disappeared, finding his body in an area of the ranch that had supposedly already been searched by deputies.